‘We’re the best fed country in the world’ by Mary Nenke, Cambinata Yabbies

Introducing Mary & Michael Nenke of Cambinata Yabbies in WA. Mary’s story is number 37 in my quest to feature 52 farming stories to celebrate the Australian Year of the Farmer.

Michael and Mary Nenke, Cambinata Yabbies WA

Michael and Mary Nenke, Cambinata Yabbies

Summary of our family and farming enterprise

One hundred years ago Berthold Nenke, a brewer from Kalgoorlie, was allocated a thousand acres of bush (400hectares) at Kukerin 300 kilometres south east of Perth. The foundations were laid for the family’s future. Michael and Mary Nenke took over the management of the wheat and sheep property in 1980 on the death of Michael’s father Clem. Having learnt the importance of innovation and spreading risk by ‘having your eggs in more than one basket,’ each subsequent decade has seen them, together with their six children, embrace new opportunities and diversify the enterprise.

In 1991 with the collapse of prices for wheat and wool, interest rates of 17.5% and huge educational bills, expenditure exceeded income. The family worked together to reduce spending and increase income. Michael’s sideline of yabby farming emerged as a new enterprise when Paul, their eldest son, caught fifty kilograms of the delicious crustaceans and the existing wholesalers were oversupplied. Tipped back in the dam the yabbies were quickly fished ‘back out’ when a friend rang who had a relation in Perth seeking a regular supply of yabbies. Cambinata Yabbies was born. Within three years the hay shed was overtaken with six large tanks, a biological recycling system installed and the business registered as an Export Establishment in order to meet the demands of international trade and facilitate purging and grading yabbies purchased from hundreds of farmers from across an area 600 kilometres in length by 400 kilometres in breadth.

Just over a decade later the family shared their many talents to create the first annual ‘Cambinata Extravaganza’. These events profile the region, showcasing gourmet food, wines and boutique beer. Staged in the ‘shearing shed’ bedecked with memorabilia, candlelit chandeliers and candelabras & complete with a grand piano below the ‘shearing heads’, city people are linked with the country, meet farmers, enjoy the stunning wild flowers and even camp in the paddock. This event has led to the Nenke’s catering for a growing number of functions including corporate events, tour groups and weddings. In November they throw a free ‘Inspiration Dinner’ prior to Christmas.


Cambinata Yabbies, WA

Cambinata Yabbies, WA


With the assistance of a DAFF Food Processing in Regional Australia grant, in 2008 the family completed construction of an export kitchen, processing room, blast chiller, cool room and freezer. The facility is used to produce the company’s unique gourmet lines including pickled yabbies & abalone, and a range of ‘Family Inspiration’ dukkahs and gluten free chocolate pan forte.

Today Michael and Mary manage the business together with their three sons, Paul, Derek & Ian, their spouses Amanda & Lisa and marketing support by their three daughters, Ann, Catherine and Suzanne. The boys continue to crop over two thousand hectares, growing wheat, barley, lupins and oats. The family have now dedicated over twenty years diversifying the enterprise; committing massive amounts of time, effort and resources to research and build Cambinata to the sophisticated business it is today.


What is the best lifestyle and factor that you enjoy in being a farmer?

What I enjoy most is being surrounded by family and being close to creation. Having our sons and daughters-in-law regularly share their lives, from what is happening on the farm and in the business to what their family are doing is very special as is having our daughters, their spouses and friends, want to come to the farm and be part of special events.

We are blessed to have three grandchildren living across the road. There is nothing more wonderful than to be hugged every morning and be loved unconditionally. Currently our eldest granddaughter has chosen to spend part of her gap year with us. It is special to be able to provide her with time out from the city and a different experience of life.

Each morning, looking out of our front window across the paddock I realise how blessed we are to have space. Walking to my office I treasure the fact that I don’t have to allow a couple of hours a day to commute in peak hour traffic. We can stop for a coffee when a friend or family pops in, attend the grand children’s sporting events and catch up on work in my own time. Being dependent on the weather for our livelihood keeps me prayerful and willing to embrace new opportunities.


What are the biggest short term and long term challenges in farming?

 I see the biggest short and long term challenges of our cropping enterprise being that we are trading in an unfair market. Since 1907 ‘minimum wages’ for Australian workers have been regarded as fitting and right. Our labour force is protected and yet farmers who provide an essential service, without which we all die, ‘food’, have had every form of protection removed. Our competitors in the marketplace from USA and Europe receive much higher ‘subsidised’ returns due to the protection their governments place on food security. For our yabby enterprise the biggest challenges are water and pesticides. Without water they cannot live and multiply, and with one whiff of pesticide they die.


Michael, Derek, Mary, Paul, Amanda and Ian Nenke

Michael, Derek, Mary, Paul, Amanda and Ian Nenke


What do you wish non-farmers/ city people and the Australian Government understood about farming? 

‘Become a ‘Farming Champion’ and insure Australia’s Food Security for future generations’

I have recently launched a campaign calling for all Australians to become ‘Farming Champions’. When researching a presentation for a seminar titled ‘Alarming Farming’, organised by Varley CWA, I became very ‘alarmed’.

It occurred to me that ‘all wage earners’ are effectively subsidised, they don’t receive the same wages as Chinese or Indian workers. Our government has legislated over a century ago to stop exploitation of Australian workers.  However Australian farmers are expected to trade on an international market whilst purchasing on a ‘labour subsidised’ local market.

The economics of farming was even more alarming than anticipated as was the little publicised unsustainable debt levels, lack of guaranteed returns, mental health and suicide levels as well as the thousands of farmers who have been and continue to be forced to leave the industry.

We are being told that ‘farming is an exciting industry’. The future is bright because ‘the world is running out of food’. The problem is that farmers are not the profiteers – it is the multi nationals who control our cost of inputs and the prices received. The question needs to be asked ‘why are farmers selling out to foreign investors and why are foreigners buying our farms?  We need to act now to stop the slow and painful death of family farms and farmers.


What message would you like to put on a billboard in Collins Street?

Thanks to Australian farmers we are the best fed country in the world


Cambinata YabbiesCambinata Yabbies













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Comments 2

  1. Great article, well done Mary, Mike and family.. Yes we definitely need to look after our farmers.
    No Farmers = No Food!!!!

  2. Hello Mary (and Michael)
    I saw your interview on the 7.30 Report recently. I, too, am very concerned about the sale of our farms to overseas buyers and also the apalling way our farmers are being treated by the large duopoly. It is heartbreaking to hear of people having to sell their farms that have been in their families for generations and how they and their families struggle to survive. ( And like you we knowthat strugle well!)
    I would love to talk to you about a way they can improve their cashfow. Lyoness, a loyalty cashback card, has been in Europe for ten years and has huge companies like Porche, Mercedes,Harrod’s and Marks and Spencers on board. They are also keen to help SMEs. They are just launching here in Oz.. Can I suggest you watch at http://www.lyoness.net and get back to me if you feel it would be of benefit. I have a few accountants in Perth now presenting this to their clients to help their cashflow. I hope you or any of your farming colleagues will feel free to ring me on 0404 895 901. And no this is NOTa scam. Sheila Penman JP RN

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